The WRBA teamed up with the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society to submit testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. We testified in favor of making the Forest Park Carousel a landmark. Below is the text of our testimony.
Thank you to all members of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, especially Chairman Tierney, for the opportunity to offer testimony.
This testimony is being submitted jointly by two organizations. The first is the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA). The WRBA, founded in 1972, works on behalf of the residents of Woodhaven, a neighborhood in Queens. The WRBA serves as an advocate for Woodhaven residents, promotes neighborhood spirit by bringing together residents and local leaders, and seeks to engage all in the betterment of our community.
The second organization is the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society. The Society was formed in 1992 to protect, preserve, and promote the history and character of Woodhaven. The Society has erected markers around the neighborhood at locations of historical interest, and has published books about Woodhaven history and the local area, including the well-regarded monograph The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park by the late historian Vincent Seyfried.
Both the WRBA and the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society wish to express strong support for designating the Forest Park Carousel a New York City landmark. The carousel is part of our community’s identity. The ride is a beautiful work of art, a historic specimen that embodies our community’s heritage, and a form of entertainment that has amused generations of Woodhaven residents.
The period during which the carousel was shuttered resulted in a void in our community. In recent years, the WRBA and the Cultural and Historical Society had fought to make the carousel operational again. These efforts took a variety of forms, including working with our elected representatives, writing letters to city officials, petitioning, organizing rallies of support in-person and online, publicizing the cause in the media, and even creating a popular “Save the Forest Park Carousel” t-shirt. As you can imagine, it overjoyed us to have the carousel back when it was reopened last year.
Now, landmarking is an appropriate next step in ensuring that current and future generations of Woodhaven residents will be able to experience and enjoy the carousel.
The Forest Park Carousel, like most great works of art, can be appreciated on multiple levels. Children who have ridden it—including some of our Board members in their younger years—love the colorful menagerie of horses, tigers, and lions. Aficionados of wood carving regard those same figures as masterpieces. No wonder: they were whittled over a century ago by the hands of Daniel Carl Muller, a master of his craft and a major influencer of American carousels. And devotees of the area’s history enjoy how the carousel is decorated with beautiful paintings depicting settings in Woodhaven and the rest of Queens.
The Landmarks Law makes designation contingent upon a site possessing “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation.” There is no doubt that the Forest Park Carousel meets this standard, and we steadfastly believe that any knowledgeable Woodhaven resident would agree. The “Save The Forest Park Carousel” Facebook group, administered by the WRBA and the Cultural and Historical Society, has over 1,300 fans, many of whom have shared with us their own fond memories of the carousel.
We were happy—but unsurprised—to learn that the Forest Park Carousel is regarded by experts as “a rare jewel” and that Roland Hopkins, editor of The Carousel News & Trader, “estimated there are only about 160 antique wooden carousels left in the nation and only about 100 of the same caliber as the one in Forest Park.” In the opinion of connoisseurs and lay admirers alike, the Forest Park Carousel is truly something special.
Last summer, the reopening of the carousel was a heartwarming occasion. Despite steady rain, a large crowd showed up for the inaugural ride of the restored carousel. And in the weeks that followed, with much nicer weather, even larger crowds flocked to the attraction. Many newcomers to Woodhaven, who had no recollection of the carousel because it had been closed for years before they moved to the neighborhood, had the chance to enjoy and develop memories of their own. Granting landmark status to the Forest Park Carousel will not only draw welcome attention to this gem of Woodhaven; it will create a guarantee—backed by the protection of the law—that our community will remain home to the carousel for years to come. We would applaud those outcomes.
The WRBA and the Cultural and Historical Society firmly support New York Carousel Entertainment LLC’s stewardship of the carousel, and we have been very happy to work with the company to preserve the ride and make it an attraction once again. They have received deserved praise for their efforts to revitalize the carousel and to make its surroundings a fun and family-friendly environment. As strongly as we believe the carousel deserves landmark designation, we certainly would not want such a status to make it economically impractical to continue operating the carousel. It would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed if landmarking the carousel meant it could no longer be run and maintained profitably by a responsible vendor and would therefore need to be shuttered again. Thus, we have been happy to learn that granting landmark status would likely not interfere with New York Carousel Entertainment’s good work in Forest Park, and we urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to work with the company to ensure that remains the case.
In the view of the WRBA, the Cultural and Historical Society, and thousands of our Woodhaven neighbors, the Forest Park Carousel is already a site of rich historical significance and a continuing source of delight. We wholeheartedly encourage the Commission to make it official by designating the carousel a New York City landmark.